The dream of an Asian business park (ABP) on the Royal Docks is dead. Or dying. Or dormant. But mostly, we must assume, dead.
It all started with such promise. The vision was a gateway, with the rich, outward-looking Chinese, in the heat of economic expansion, setting up their European HQs at the Royal Docks, their own little enclave from which to reach out and conquer the rest of London.
This was 2013. The Mayor was Boris Johnson. He signed the deal in Beijing and he promised a financial centre to rival nearby Canary Wharf.
The country was to learn what east Londoners already suspected.
Boris Johnson was not an attention-to-detail guy. He was a fanfare-and-flee guy.
There were spades in the ground, VIP handshakes, and eventually two rows of immaculate buildings were set beside the water. There was promise that derelict land would come alive again; that people in neighbouring communities would work rest and play there. But construction stopped in 2019 and everything went quiet which only served to revive questions about financing.
Meanwhile, no-one came.
90 per cent of the units are empty.
The only major new arrival which made any kind of impact was Covid in 2020 but, by then, Covid was more a handy excuse for delays rather than a reason for inaction. There was talk of reviving the scheme as a live-work centre, where people, fed up of WFH could WFABP instead. Mini-pods to take a doze maybe.
All fanciful talk.
Nothing ever happened.
It continues to not happen with an unwavering tenacity.
Show us the money
Also, in the background, making things worse, the Chinese turned their faces from the world, and the rented office market dried up. Crossrail – another selling point – was delayed by years to compound the sorry tale.
Now the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has torn up the £1billion agreement with the developers, saying, no more. Enough is enough. He had just unveiled plans for the Millennium Mills and £3.5billion regeneration of Silvertown to the south and the dream has always been (and still is) a ring of regeneration around what was once the largest enclosed dock in the world, all contained in London’s only enterprise zone.
The Mayor is following up on his final termination from last year, seeking reassurances for financing from a company, headed by the flamboyant Xu Weiping. Last year ABP made a £13million loss and the Sunday Times has reported a £45 million debt.
Hazy financing, over-ambition and the King of White Elephants as Mayor. Some might say it was bound to happen.
Eric Reynolds, from Docklands-based Urban Space Management, told the BBC the focus on “sterile” offices excluded local people.
He said, “They’ve left a long-term problem because they have effectively crushed the space. It’s not going to be flattened. We’ve got to work with it and it won’t be easy.”
Back in GLA hands
And we’re talking a significant piece of land to be held in check. Some 35 acres north of the Royal Albert Dock, neighbouring the University of East London on one side and Excel on the other.
Only 10 per cent has been developed and ABP gets to keep what it has got, the summer sun blazing off virgin roads and unmarked glass. But the over five phases will entrusted to another developer.
There should be plenty of interest. In the last decade or so, the rest of the Royal Docks has been transformed, the sliver of land between the river and the docks now full of flats and shops and City Hall itself now housing the Greater London Authority.
Everywhere is if not quite bustling yet, then holding the potential to bustle.
There’s bustling to come.
A spokesperson for the Greater London Authority said: “The Greater London Authority (GLA) has terminated the development agreement for the regeneration of Royal Albert Dock, which was signed in 2013 under the previous mayor, after neither ABP London Investment Ltd nor its guarantor, Dauphin Holdings Group, were able to meet the obligations in the agreement.
“This means that the vast majority of the site is now back under the control of the GLA.
“Royal Albert Dock remains an important site within the Royal Docks, with the opportunity to deliver thousands of new jobs. The GLA remains confident of the site’s future success and will now consider the best way to bring forward its development.”
One of the few occupied buildings on the site is a JobCentre.
Apparently, the theme of this theme park is… vacancies.